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Banned Books Week: Handling book challenges in the schools

farh451-2More than any other institution, schools are the focus of challenges to books, whether because of required reading in a course or simply because a certain book is available in the library. The Sioux Falls School District has specific procedures in place to address challenges if they arise. While the procedures differ somewhat depending upon whether the objection is to something that is part of the approved curriculum or a library item, both the the policy and the regulation implementing it acknowledge both the parent-child relationship and the freedom to read and inquire.

Both procedures start with the parent or guardian meeting with the teacher or librarian and the principal to discuss any concerns. For library items, the parent or guardian “may” be offered the ability to limit their child’s access to the material “without limiting the access of other students.” For curriculum items, an attempt is made to assess whether “alternative instructional materials” of “comparable instructional value” can be used. If no agreement is reached, a parent can appeal to the school board.

If, however, a parent believes that curricular or library material “is not appropriate for any student’s use,” they can file a reconsideration request. What happens in that situation depends on whether it is material from the curriculum or available to anyone in the library.

In the case of the former, within 10 days the available members of the original curriculum study committee that recommended adoption of the materials are to be convened. They “shall research and validate the facts of the complaint” and apply the following criteria:

a. Extent to which [the material] supports the curriculum.
b. Suitability of the subject matter, vocabulary, and presentation for the students’ experience and maturity and for the intended use of the material.
c. Content of the material in terms of currency, accuracy, and consistency with curriculum goals.

The group then files a fact-finding report, which must “include answers to [the] specific objections” to the material. The School Board must then hold a public hearing on the challenge, after which a curriculum council must make one of the following recommendations to the Board:

a. The materials will continue to be used without restriction.
b. The materials will continue to be used with restrictions.
c. The materials will be moved to another level for use without restrictions.
d. The materials will be moved to another level for use with restrictions.
e. The materials will be removed from the curriculum and replaced if necessary.

The School Board then makes its final decision. Although not referenced in the regulation, state law allows “any person aggrieved” by a school board decision to appeal to circuit court.

The procedure for library material is similar, but uses an “instructional review committee.” The committee is appointed by an assistant superintendent and must include a minimum of two teachers, a building principal and two parents/guardians. It may also include two students “if deemed appropriate.” The committee, chaired by the district’s Library Services Coordinator, is charged with weighing the “values and faults” of the material, “viewing [it] as a whole and not individual passages or images.” It must consider:

a. Extent to which [the material] supports the curriculum.
b. Qualifications of the author, artist, composer, producer, and/or publisher of the material.
c. Suitability of the subject matter, vocabulary, and presentation for the students’ experience and maturity and for the intended use of the material.
d. Content of the material in terms of currency, accuracy, and consistency with curriculum goals.
e. Literary and/or artistic merit.

The committee must deliver a written report with its “final decision” that includes “answers to [the] specific objections” to the material. If not satisfied, the complaining party may appeal the committee’s decision to the Superintendent, who, in turn, must submit the decision to the School Board “for action.”

Notably, whenever curricular or library material is challenged, the regulation provides that it “shall continue to be used during the reconsideration process unless the Superintendent or School Board suspends its use.” Additionally, the policy from which the regulations flow recognizes that not only that individuals have the freedom to read and explore diverse viewpoints but that the ability to do so is essential in developing critical thinking skills


One of the most important goals of education is to help young people understand the diversity of viewpoints, religions, and cultures in the world and learn to make informed choices.

Sioux Falls School District Policy KEC

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